Design Thinking: The Similarities of Legos and Startups

Design Thinking and Legos
Design Thinking and Legos

Building a startup is a lot like building a Lego set from scratch. You’re given a big yellow box full of a million pieces and told to go make something that looks like a company. The box is filled with options for funding, talent, consultants, best practices, banks, marketers, salespeople etc. You have to put all that together into a fully functioning business.  How are you going to make what you build becomesomething that not only makes sense but sustains you and others? Design Thinking may help you view these types of problems differently.

I have a wonderful little 5 year old Lego Master who received a host of sets designed to be followed step-by-step to completion. As we were unpacking the sets and putting them all together by meticulously following the instructions, I noticed a pattern emerging. My son’s method was to build it the first time, then gradually take it apart and merge it with all the other Lego sets he already built. This struck me as much like the experience of building a startup.

I have been reading and researching throughout 2016 about Design Thinking led largely by the Stanford d.School. The Beginner’s Mindset method explained on page 6, urges you to be curious, ask questions and to not judge. As I watched Neil follow the instructions and then decide to create his own designs using the same pieces, it dawned on me as the perfect anecdote for what I am trying to do building my startup Momentum. Looking to build a solution but not one that looks like everyone else’s.

Using the Beginner’s Mindset method is valuable for any business. In my experience helping others start their businesses, one glaring fact is that making assumptions and judging opportunities too quickly can lead you to make poor decisions. Believing that the way it’s always been done is the way that it always should be done is a common misstep. Believing that you are the ultimate expert and authority on your idea is another.

Design thinking challenges us to always ask, How Might We? When you’re five and you haven’t been shown the world in a meaningful way, you are much more able to create original ideas. You believe anything is possible. You wonder ‘Why Not’? You see endless possibility. Why do we let those feelings and tendencies disappear?

As noted, designing a business is not that much different than the Lego process. The general components of any type of business (or Lego structure) are all the same. What can you do to take a look at all those pieces and make them work better together? How might you create a solution that is going to work in harmony with pieces (or partners) A, B & C?  

As it applies to business, walk into your next team strategy session and set the stage. Ask your team to let go of any assumptions and judgments. Start with a 15 minute Lego building session where everyone is challenged to come up with a design, the weirder the better. Ask your team to pause logic and work freely. Then start talking about your latest business challenge.

Allowing your team to free their minds will give them the social capital to share their original thoughts. All too often we believe our crazy ideas should be kept to ourselves, unless someone thinks we are ‘stupid’. No first thought is perfect. However, when you spit it out and have other people in the room to help you build on or test your idea, magic can happen. 5 year olds don’t care what you think of their ideas. Adopt that mentality and use your incredible amount of experience to educate you on how to build out that original idea and for double points, happily accept the insight of those around you.

I asked my son ‘What is imagination?’ His response? ‘When you can build and do whatever you want.’ Use your imagination again. Think big then test your ideas. Build, test, fail, start again. Be okay when your idea doesn’t work out. Add another piece or take one away and try again. Never forget your inner 5 year old.

Joanna Killen
Chief Entrepreneur Activator and Co-Founder of Momentum Canada. Supporting small businesses, non-profits and startups through sales strategies is my passion and purpose. 'Be who you needed when you were younger' is my mantra.

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